Game Of Thrones stars bittersweet about life after the show as end looms

It is not just Game Of Thrones fans, but also its actors, who are getting emotional at the nearing end of the hit television series

After six years, numerous shocking deaths and more heart-stopping plot twists, the end is nigh for HBO's massively popular fantasy series Game Of Thrones.

And it is not just the fans who are starting to get emotional.

English actress Emilia Clarke tells a group of international journalists visiting the set in Belfast, Northern Ireland: "It's something we talk about on the show quite a lot. It's enormous and crazy and weird and I can't even imagine the kind of weirdness and tears and sadness and argh!"

She quips: "Hopefully I'm sitting on the (Iron) Throne and that'll make it all better."

Clarke, 30, plays Daenerys Targaryen, who has a blood claim to the throne as her father had occupied it. Having three fire-breathing dragons on her side does not hurt her chances of ascension, either.

The fantasy drama has taken viewers on a thrill-ride of jawdropping scenes and racing emotions since its debut on HBO in 2011 as personalities from rival clans battle for the ultimate prize of the Iron Throne of Westeros. It has now outpaced the books it was originally based on - George R. R. Martin's A Song Of Ice And Fire series - and there are just two seasons left of the show.

The long-awaited Season 7, comprising just seven episodes, premieres in Singapore next Monday at 9am, at the same time as in the United States. Season 8 is expected to wrap things up in six episodes late next year or in early 2019.

 

I can't even imagine the kind of weirdness and tears and sadness and argh! Hopefully I'm sitting on the (Iron) Throne and that'll make it all better.

ENGLISH ACTRESS EMILIA CLARKE on the end of the Game Of Thrones television series

Journalists on the press trip to Belfast, one of the locations where the drama was filmed, had just watched Clarke acting serious and queen-like for a scene via a monitor. The next thing we know, she is sitting in front of us, her hairdo protected by a piece of blue cloth, disarmingly girlish and charming.

Asked what it is like to shoot the scenes flying on a dragon and she says: "It looks really unglamorous. It's this kind of bucking-bronco style and it looks like a Ninja Turtle green thing."

Unfortunately, we have about four minutes with her before she is whisked back on set. But even if we had more time, questions about the upcoming season are a no-go. We are reminded not to give anything away and not to take any photographs. The one keepsake photo we have is of us taking turns to sit on the actual Iron Throne and even that had to be taken on a staff member's phone.

The seat of power is a decidedly uncomfortable one; whichever character wins the throne would want a cushion thrown in as part of the deal.

What is up for discussion during the trip is what has already taken place. One of the biggest things that happened in Season 6 was Jon Snow coming back from the dead.

The character, played by English actor Kit Harington, was introduced as the illegitimate son of the Lord of Winterfell, Ned Stark, and has since emerged as another key contender for the Iron Throne.

After he was killed at the end of Season 5, fans closely scrutinised Harington's every move, to the point of keeping tabs on his head of curls, searching for signs that he would return to the show.

Harington, 30, jokes: "I kind of thought they'd get me in a private jet or helicopter to set - not much of that, no.

"There were drones on set during the Battle of the Bastards, so we'd have this kind of 'Drone! Drone! Drone!' and I'd have to run under an umbrella and get taken to a tent. That felt quite exciting."

He told some close friends and his family that his character would be back in Season 6 even though show creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss had instructed him not to. "I did want to keep it a secret, it was a big spoiler. But close friends and family, those people I'm not going to lie to."

Season 6 was notable also for the spectacular Battle of the Bastards, in which Jon Snow clashes with another bastard character, Ramsay Bolton, in a fight for Winterfell and the North. The battle took 25 days to film and involved 500 extras, 600 crew members and 70 horses.

It is an example of the kind of meticulous, top-notch production that has turned the show into a global hit and a winner of 38 Primetime Emmy Awards, including for Outstanding Drama Series in 2015 and last year.

At one point, Harington is completely submerged under a mound of bodies. He recalls: "It was quite uncomfortable. You've got 15 bearded Northern Irishmen crushing you. There's a moment where he could just lie down and he could let it all go, the hell that he's in. And he doesn't and that cuts to the heart of Jon - he fights his way up to the top."

Growing up on the show and getting a life afterwards

It was a tough shoot for the actor, given that he had to confront one of his "mortal fears" head-on.

"At a festival, when things get a bit too crowded, I panic. The force of massive humans together is quite a scary feeling when you're being surged."

The payoff was that at least he felt safe in Season 6, in a show notorious for killing even beloved characters. "It would be bad storytelling to kill me the season after I've been resurrected," he said.

Another character who has had a tremendous arc is Sansa Stark, Jon Snow's half-sister. She has grown from a girl besotted with a prince into a smart woman with her own agenda - and could herself take the Iron Throne.

English actress Sophie Turner, 21, who plays Sansa, has just taken a "wonderful" four-hour nap, stretched out across three chairs.

She is in costume for the scene she is shooting with Harington, in which he gives a speech in a hall in Winterfell. The space looks cavernous on television, but is much smaller with all the equipment, crew members and actors packed into it.

She says of her relationship with her role: "She is like another part of me. Since I was 13, it's been all my formative years, having someone grow up beside me for so long, you can't help but be somewhat influenced by the character and vice versa.

"She's the strongest character that I've ever had the opportunity to play. She won't let patriarchy or anything like that stand in her way. She's also very adaptable to every situation she finds herself in."

Sansa has had to endure quite a bit of abuse, including a brutal rape by Ramsay Bolton after their marriage in Season 5. It was a controversial scene and raised questions about the show's depiction of women.

Turner says calmly: "I don't think it was over the line. Those kinds of things happened in Tudor times. We paint the world as it is and just throw in a couple of dragons."

The strong reaction was "appropriate" and she is glad that it triggered a conversation.

Personally, she has been inspired to link up with a charity, Women for Women International, which helps women in economically less developed societies, who have been raped, to get back on their feet.

As for the show, she promises a "very exciting season" for a "very strong and steely" Sansa.

Turner, who plays mutant Jean Grey in X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) and in the upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix, has also started thinking about her post-Game Of Thrones future.

"I get very panicked when I am out of work. I'm totally insecure and totally unsupported. Hopefully I've got another X-Men to do. Also, I wonder if I would like a break from acting for a while," she says.

Like his fellow cast members, Liam Cunningham, 56, will be sorry to see the end of the epic as well. The Irish actor, who plays the knight Davos Seaworth, says: "It's sunk in for my bank manager, he's s******g himself."

Jokes aside, he is well aware of how important the show is to so many people.

"You don't want to let anyone down. You want to make sure the story is told properly. There's so much love for this thing.

"People are going to have to get a life after this. So are we."

•Season 7 of Game Of Thrones premieres in Singapore at the same time as the United States, exclusively on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601) next Monday at 9am, with a same-day primetime encore at 9pm. The series will also be streaming on HBO on StarHub Go and HBO On Demand (StarHub TV Channel 602).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2017, with the headline 'Endgame of thrones'. Print Edition | Subscribe